DOWNTOWN — As murders and shootings skyrocket in Chicago, the city's clearance rate remains abysmal — and the Police Department's detective pool has also dwindled.
Chicago had 1,252 detectives in 2008, but it now has 922, according to a report from Reuters, leaving the violence-plagued city with proportionally fewer detectives than other major cities. A recently retired detective told Reuters investigators have been overwhelmed and can't do "an honest investigation" of 75 percent of cases.
At the same time, the Police Department's murder clearance rate — the rate at which it solves and closes cases — sat at just 46 percent in 2015, according to Reuters. The national average is 63 percent, and it's 68 percent for cities with more than 1 million people, according to Reuters.
"You get so many cases you could not do an honest investigation on three-quarters of them," the detective told Reuters. "The guys ... are trying to investigate one homicide and they are sent out the next day on a brand new homicide or a double."
Those numbers come as increased gun violence has led to a surge in murders in Chicago. At least 462 people have been killed so far this year. In comparison, in all of 2015 only about 493 people were killed.
Chicago police face unique challenges when trying to solve murders, said department spokesman Frank Giancamilli.
"In Chicago, over 90 percent of murders are committed with a gun, which reduces the amount of physical evidence in a case," Giancamilli said. "This sobering fact also highlights the need to stem the flow of illegal weapons and hold repeat gun offenders accountable."
Another issue: People in communities hit hard by gang and drug violence, including victims and witnesses, are often wary of speaking to police, Giancamilli said.
Police have tried to prevent violence by cracking down on guns and have taken 23 percent more guns off the street so far this year than at the same point last year, Giancamilli said. The department has also repeatedly called for harsher sentences for repeat gun offenders in recent years.
Giancamilli didn’t acknowledge a link between the low clearance rate and lack of detectives, but said they were working to improve the clearance rate by giving the detectives they do have more resources.
Officers have access to portable gunshot residue testing kits, allowing detectives to test people suspected of firing a gun in real time instead of waiting 48-72 hours for a test. They have also been given more training in finding video surveillance footage that can help with a case.
Detectives are also cross-training with a community group to ensure they are "sensitive to the needs of victims and their families and aware of community dynamics," Giancamilli said, and the department has partnered with other agencies to find weapons that have been used in other crimes and ID offenders.
"These efforts include ongoing work to strengthen relationships with the community with the goal of restoring trust and increasing cooperation between police and residents, and giving detectives additional resources available to help them do their jobs more effectively," Giancamilli said.
And police recently hosted a detective promotional exam — the first in 12 years — to refill its ranks so police "solve cases and make our neighborhoods safer," Giancamilli said.
Just 8 percent of Chicago's 12,000-person police force are detectives, according to Reuters. In New York City and Los Angeles, 15 percent of the city's respective police forces are detectives.
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